Parenthood Study Shows Moms, Dads Extol the Joy of Raising Kids to Justify the Expense

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Money, money, money! Parents justify the high cost of having kids by gushing about the joys of parenthood. Credit: Getty

Having children is, uh, great. Yeah, great.

No, really. You have to pity those childless souls with their free time and disposable income as they desperately try to fill the void in their lives by traveling across Europe and sleeping through the night.

They will never know the transcendent joy of looking into a baby's sweet, crying face at 3 a.m., and being stunned by the realization that this fragile new life will be pushing the envelope of their sanity and bank account for the rest of their days.

The poor fools. They will never experience the joy of parenting, the absolu ... Help!!

OK, so maybe parents exaggerate the joy and fulfillment of parenthood. Just a smidge. But researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, suggest you cut them a little slack.

It's either a little bit of delusion and denial at times, or you go screaming into the night.

The Vancouver Sun reports researchers found parents overblow the emotional rewards of having children to justify how much money the little leeches cost.

This, apparently, is a modern phenomenon.

Historically, researchers tell the newspaper, relationships between parents and children were a bit more frosty. Reproduction was more a biological imperative and social obligation than an excuse for a discount pass at Chuck E. Cheese.

Kids paid part of their way by working in factories and filling in when Elmer the plow horse took a personal day. Nowadays, you put your 5-year-old to work at a textile mill, and people look at you funny.

Modern times demand children be good for something other than cheap labor, and people got all gooey about being mommies and daddies.

"Paradoxically, as the costs of raising children have grown, so too has parents' belief that parenthood is emotionally rewarding," psychology professor Richard Eibach, tells the Sun. "Our findings help to resolve this paradox by demonstrating that the costs of raising children motivate parents to idealize parenthood. The perceived joys of parenthood may thus be a rationalization of the high costs of having children."

Eibach led the study along with recreational and leisure studies expert Steven Mock. Their findings appear in the journal Psychological Science.

In one experiment, the Sun reports, researchers divided parents into two groups. One group was given reading material that would scare Stephen King about how it costs more than $190,000 to raise a child to age 18.

The second group read about how their kids might eventually be able to stick them in clean nursing homes and generally take care of them when they're old and incontinent.

The Sun reports this primed parents to think about kids mostly as a cost/benefit equation. The parents in the second group, the newspaper reports, were more likely to idealize parenting when answering questions about much happiness children bring to their lives.

In a separate test, the newspaper reports, financially stressed parents were also more likely to sing the praises of spending time with their children. After all, who needs Paris in springtime?

Mock and Eibach tell the Sun they don't speak from experience, as neither of them has children. They hasten to add the tendency people have to romanticize parenting "does not mean that the decision to become a parent is itself irrational."

Eibach tells the Sun that desires to give a child a full and rewarding life or raising someone who will make the world a better place are not overblown.

It's just that people often get mushy to justify expenses, he adds.

"Cognitive-dissonance theory suggests that people will tend to idealize any activity that they have invested heavily in so that they can rationalize their costly investments," he tells the newspaper.

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